Prospect of the Week: December 10, 2013

We continue our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their recent contributions on and off the ice.

The Prospect of the Week for December 2-8, 2013 is … Ondrej Palat, W, Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL – USA).

The most underappreciated prospect in the Lightning system in recent years is finally getting the attention he deserves. Ondrej Palat, a seventh round pick of the Lightning in 2011, has been a coach’s dream since he forced his way onto AHL Norfolk’s roster in 2011 when the Lightning though he’d return to QMJHL Drummondville. He’s been an integral part of Norfolk, Syracuse, and now Tampa Bay ever since.

Palat is a do-it-all player who thinks the game at another level than most young players. Most times that description refers to offensive vision, but Palat’s is a big-picture, coach-like ability to read the game. His responsibility level is off the charts and he has the skating, size, and skill to fit in on any line.

This past week that line was Tampa Bay’s top unit alongside reigning Art Ross Trophy winner Martin St. Louis and Palat’s longtime linemate, Tyler Johnson. Palat had two assists in three games last week – both of them coming in the Lightning’s win over Ottawa when Palat was named the game’s Third Star.

Followers just looking at the stat sheet may shrug their shoulders at Palat’s week, but game watchers know better – he was excellent and a big reason the Lightning now have hope in a line that doesn’t include injured star Steven Stamkos.

A rookie this season, Palat is currently on the team’s top line, top penalty kill unit, and he plays on the power play. He won’t get mentioned in league-wide Calder Trophy conversations, but if you ask Lightning coach Jon Cooper who has been the most valuable rookie on the team, Palat either wins or ties for the honor.

Palat projects as a complimentary winger in offensive situations and the do-it-all, valuable player you’re seeing now. A good comparison is Valtteri Filppula with the Red Wings. Palat will only get bigger and better and will eventually be a huge part of playoff pushes. He may even wear an alternate captain’s “A” someday.

We rank Palat as the Lightning’s No. 7 overall prospect – a ranking that will likely rise in our mid-season list next month. We have been anxious to see if and how quickly he could play in a top-6 role or if he would settle in as a third liner in line assignment and relative impact.

Honorable Mention: Jaroslav Janus, G (Slovan, KHL), Adam Wilcox, G (Minnesota, NCAA), Jake Dotchin, D (Barrie, OHL).

2013-2014 Prospect of the Week winners:

December 3: Cedric Paquette, C, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
November 26: Tyler Johnson, C, (Tampa Bay Lightning, NHL, USA).
November 19: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 13: Jonathan Drouin, C/W, (Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL, Canada).
November 4: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 29: Kristers Gudlevskis, G, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 24: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 16: Nikita Kucherov, W, (Syracuse Crunch, AHL, USA).
October 9: Henri Ikonen, W, (Kingston Frontenacs, OHL, Canada).
October 1: Andrey Vasilevskiy, G, (Salavat Yulaev, KHL, Russia).
September 24: Adam Erne, W, Tampa Bay (NHL) and Quebec (QMJHL)